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Bose CEO Bob Maresca to step down on Dec. 31

In an exclusive interview with CNET, Maresca announces he's handing over the reins to Bose President Phil Hess, but will remain chairman of the company's board.

Maresca in the corner office he's occupied since 2005. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

When Bob Maresca, the president of Bose since 2005, assumed the CEO position after company founder Amar Bose died in 2013, the company never sent out a press release to announce his promotion. And it isn't going to send one out to announce that Maresca is stepping down as CEO on Dec. 31, when he will hand the stewardship of the company to President Phil Hess, who will add CEO to his title.

"It's not really our way," a Bose PR rep once explained to me when I asked about the quiet executive shuffles.

But even if that remains the case, Maresca, 62, who has been at Bose for 31 years and will remain chairman of Bose's board and a trustee of the corporation, wanted the world to know about the transition.

"I don't want people to think I just disappeared," said Maresca, who sat down with CNET for a recent breakfast interview in Brooklyn, where he grew up. "For years and years our strategy was don't say anything, we're privately held, we don't have to disclose anything. And that was fine for many years. But people want to know the companies they're doing business with these days."

At Bose HQ in Framingham, Massachusetts, the news has been out of the bag for a while. Back in June, Maresca sent a long, personal memo to employees explaining his decision to retire at the end of the year. He'd been thinking about it for a couple of years and had put a succession plan in place.

Maresca never aspired to reach the "corner office," so when he became President and CEO, it exceeded every professional expectation he had, he told employees. And while it afforded him things "he never imagined," he noted that without his family, "that wouldn't matter."

"I want to devote more time and attention to my parents, and to the people who matter most to me," he wrote. "With God's grace, I now have that chance. I'm going to take it."

He also said he wants to volunteer more -- he's been involved with the Ron Burton Training Village in Hubbardston, Massachusetts, a training center for disadvantaged kids. "Giving back can sound cliche, but for me, there's nothing else quite like it," he wrote.

Future Bose CEO Phil Hess

Phil Hess is a longtime Bose veteran who will take the CEO position as of Jan. 1, 2018.

Bose

One of his hobbies is using his engineering background to build devices for people with physical disabilities, "so they can do more and experience more." He plans to devote more time to that, too.

This may sound like the stuff of the Boy Scouts, but after having many conversations with Maresca over the years, it's not surprising to hear him frame his retirement in these terms -- and on his terms.

"The company is kind of a bunch of Boy Scouts," Maresca told me. "We want to do the right thing. We want to make good products for people and we're working hard on things like sleep and hearing and I feel really good about where the company is now. 

"Four years ago we were heavily entrenched in baby boomers and our whole operations were optimized to serve those baby boomers who had Lifestyle and Wave systems," he said, referring to the home theater and tabletop radio products for which -- with the possible exception of its noise-cancelling headphones -- the Bose brand was arguably most famous. "So we shifted our products more toward mill--" he stopped to catch himself. "No, not millennials, but people with mobile lifestyles who, yes, tend to be Gen Xers and millennials."

It was a difficult change to make, he said. The company was shifting to lower-margin, mass-market products and moving away from a direct-sales approach with print ads produced in-house and a big telemarketing staff to support the business model. The whole operation had to change to serve the new business and lots of jobs had to be eliminated.

"That was really painful," Maresca said. "Those folks in direct marketing were responsible for me being successful when I was in the noise-cancelling division."

With the restructuring now fully realized, Maresca felt it was a good time to turn over the reins to Hess, who Maresca hired back in 1996 to work on Bose's active-suspension vehicle system, which was a technical success but a commercial failure.

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Hess went on to work with Maresca in Bose's noise-cancelling and home entertainment divisions. He's been running the latter division of the company since 2006.

"You know, the first consumer noise-cancelling headphone wasn't a noise-cancelling headphone that was sold to the general public," Maresca said. "It was one that American Airlines provided to first-class customers."

Maresca said that Hess negotiated the deal with American, which was skeptical about the upside of buying reusable $220 headphones (that had to be cleaned after each flight), after buying disposable headphones for 78 cents apiece. The noise-cancelling headphones turned out to be a big hit with passengers. 

"Phil is a very pragmatic guy," Maresca said. "We [Bose] used to be pretty arrogant and tell customers what they wanted and sometimes we didn't pay attention to competitors. Phil uses data. He looks at what our competitors are doing -- not to copy them but at least be aware of what's out there. And looks at customers and what their needs are. He's a very capable guy, a high integrity guy.

"Change is always tough for people," he said. "But the transition is going well. They know I'm not going anywhere too far away. And I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving if I didn't think the company was on a really good path."

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